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Getting Along With Americans and Canadians
Avoiding sexism

When you are new to Canada and especially the United States, it's easy to offend and appear sexist without meaning to do harm.

Sexism—prejudice against women—remains a very sensitive issue, especially in the U.S.

Avoid sexist language

Be very careful to use language that implies equality of the sexes.

To avoid offence, many people are now using the grammatically incorrect plural "they" to refer to a single person of unknown sex.

For example, "When a tourist visits New York, they should see Rockefeller Centre," is said instead of using the traditional "he" when either a man or a woman could be involved.

Also, many people such as Dr. Voyageur say or write "he or she" instead of using solely "he" or "they".

Avoid stereotyping

In conversations, do not presume certain vocational roles are the province of one sex and not the other.

Dr. Voyageur once knew two medical doctors from Quebec married to each other. In Quebec, women keep their family names.

The doctors enjoyed offshore holidays, but often had trouble when booking hotels. Invariably when the husband rang, booking offices would want to assign a twin bedded room. When the husband asked instead for one large bed, he was sure many reservation clerks presumed he was travelling with a gay male partner.

In the minds of some clerks, being a doctor was a much too distinguished role for a woman. In the mind of Dr. Voyageur, however, bless the woman doctor who tended his very difficult birth. Being born with a backpack attached to his back posed a challenge for both doctors!

Ignore extremes

Some say the women's movement in North America has gone too far in trying to protect the interests of women.

Even if you agree, try to be tolerant if you notice extremes.

After all, women in North America still face huge prejudice in the workplace, in family structures, and in school. Of the 1,000 largest companies in the U.S., you can still count the women CEO's on your fingers.

Attitudes regarding many social habits are in flux.

A male may be uncertain whether or not to open a door for a woman, to offer to pay for a meal on a first date, etc. If you do not open that door you may be considered ill-mannered or even rude, and if you do, you may be classed as sexist and insensitive depending on the observer.

You'll just have to live with these situations. There's no way to know in advance what to do in every social interaction.

Avoid touching and intimate language unless sure

Do not touch anyone with more than a handshake unless you are certain your action will be welcomed.

This can be a strain for people from many cultures (including some found in North America) where friendly, informal touching between men and women is not considered offensive.

Nevertheless, "When in doubt, leave it out."

At the now closed Antioch College in Ohio, men had to ask permission before kissing their dates. Moreover, they had to receive verbal permission at each step prior to proceeding to greater intimacy, or risk expulsion from the university. One wonders if the university closed because men were too frightened to enrol there.

The University of Iowa may expel a student or terminate an employee who says, "Helen, that is a sexy dress you are wearing."

Immediate termination may seem too extreme in this situation, but that's the way it is.

Again, Dr. Voyageur realizes the economic and social abuse women have long suffered and frankly continue to suffer in both American and Canadian society.

Unlike Bangladesh, Bolivia, Haiti, Liberia, Malawi, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (I could go on)—countries some Americans and Canadians consider not as "advanced" as theirs—neither Canada nor the United States has ever elected a woman head of government.
Even with a person of colour in office, White House women staff still earn some 18% less than men.

For more discussion about interacting with Americans and Canadians

Go to >> Making friends

Go to >> Interacting with Americans and Canadians

Go to >> Handling complaints

Go to >> Dealing with prejudice

Go to >> Settling into North American life

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